Home > Uncategorized > This Just In: Privatizing Profiteers Benefit from and Exacerbate Racial and Economic Segregation

This Just In: Privatizing Profiteers Benefit from and Exacerbate Racial and Economic Segregation

January 20, 2018

Yesterday’s Washington Post blog post by Valerie Strauss consists of an interview of author Nowile Rooks whose latest book, Cutting School, is summarized in one telling quote that leads Ms. Strauss’ post:

“If we as a nation really took seriously dismantling underperforming school districts and replacing them with the same types of educational experiences we provide the wealthy, it would negatively impact the bottom lines of many companies.” — Noliwe M. Rooks

In Ms. Strauss’ interview, Ms. Rooks provides a narrative on how segregation began after the Civil War, how it flourished and was supported by law until the mid-1950s, and how it continues today. But Ms. Rooks asserts that the privatization of public education has made the situation even worse, and that any policy that seeks to end segregation by race (or, by implication of her analysis, income) would likely run afoul of the investor class whose campaign contributions to conservatives and neoliberals ensure the perpetuation of our current system:

Students educated in wealthy schools perform well as measured by standard educational benchmarks. Students educated in poor schools do not. Racial and economic integration is the one systemic solution that we know ensures the tide will lift all educational boats equally. However, instead of committing to educating poor children in the same way as we do the wealthy, or actually with the wealthy, we have offered separate educational content (such as a reoccurring focus on vocational education for the poor) and idiosyncratic forms of educational funding and delivery (such as virtual charter schools and cyber education) as substitutes for what we know consistently works. While not ensuring educational equality, such separate, segregated, and unequal forms of education have provided the opportunity for businesses to make a profit selling schooling. 

Ms. Rooks coined a term for this phenomenon: “segrenomics”. And this paragraph on how it works could have been lifted from “Reinventing Government” or any treatise coming from libertarian think tanks:

I am calling this specific form of economic profit “segrenomics.” Children who live in segregated communities and are Native American, black or Latino are more likely to have severely limited educational options. In the last 30 years, government, philanthropy, business and financial sectors have heavily invested in efforts to privatize certain segments of public education; stock schools with inexperienced, less highly paid teachers whose hiring often provides companies with a “finder’s fee”; outsource the running of schools to management organizations; and propose virtual schools as a literal replacement for — not just a supplement to — the brick and mortar educational experience.

The attraction, of course, is the large pot of education dollars that’s been increasingly available to private corporate financial interests. The public education budget funded by taxpayers is roughly $500 billion to $600 billion per year. Each successful effort that shifts those funds from public to private hands — and there has been a growing number of such efforts since the 1980s — escalates corporate earnings.

In short, these privatized for-profit schools are designed to benefit shareholders first and foremost and if children learn as a result it is a collateral benefit.  Is there any way out of this trend given the money being spent by philanthropists and profiteers, the relentless message that privatized for-profit market driven schools are better than “government schools”, and the desire to keep taxes low at all costs? Ms. Rooks’ interview concludes with this:

In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech entitled “Where Do We Go From Here: Community or Chaos?” I often reflect on his questions when thinking about where the contemporary paths we are traveling in relation to public education are leading. I think community or chaos are two potential destinations. We have to stop and reflect on where both our educational preferences and policies are leading us. We can either continue to encourage chaos by allowing our tax dollars to be used to educationally experiment on working class and poor children, and disrupt poor communities by closing schools, or we can embrace community by requiring that poor children are educated in the same ways as the wealthy.

The choices we make are will tell future generations much of what they will need to know about what our democracy means to us here in the 21st century.

I have been consulting in rural Vermont communities who are trying to answer a variation of this question. The legislature in Vermont passed a bill that encouraged town school districts to voluntarily merge into multi-town union districts where their local schools would be represented by regional boards instead of locally. This bill rightly assumes that a single merged K-12 district will provide greater efficiency and, thus, greater savings. But many town bridle at the changes that come with regionalization: they fear that their towns might ultimately lose their public schools, which serve as community anchors. The overarching question is one of efficiency versus community: do we want to save every dollar we can in the name of reducing costs, even if it means eliminating our community? It is clear that some Vermont towns do not want the state imposing a new definition of “community” on them in the name of efficiency. It is also clear that some suburban and exurban towns and urban neighborhoods do not want the state government or city government imposing a definition of “community” on them in the name of segregation. In both cases the hearts and minds of individuals need to be changed. I believe we need to expand our definition of “Community” to be as inclusive as possible without abandoning the traditions that make our local “community” unique. It CAN be accomplished if we lower our voices, soften our positions, and open our hearts and minds.


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